March 21, 2011
The Wildest Dream
Within the first decades of the 20th Century, Earth was becoming a smaller place. Most of the planet's surface had been mapped and the poles had been successfully reached. Only one natural superlative remained in defiance of man's despoilment: Earth's highest peak, Tibet's Mt. Chomolungma, known more familiarly in the West as Mt. Everest.
Anthony Geffen's film The Wildest Dream, released as an IMAX spectacular via National Geographic's theatrical imprint, documents the doomed 1924 conquest of Everest by British mountaineer George Mallory. Mallory's story dovetails into American climber Conrad Anker's modern attempt to reach Everest's summit using Mallory's route.
While climbing Everest in 1999, Anker found Mallory's remains and subsequently became obsessed with the idea that Mallory and his associate Sandy Irvine may have been the first successful team to reach the summit.
The main problem with the film is that it relies a bit too much on this "did-they-or-didn't-they?" mystery as a narrative hook, and in the end, I didn't really care whether or not the men had reached their goal before succumbing to the elements. But Mallory's dogged pursuit of renown is more fascinating: what drove the man to abandon his ostensibly happy family life, only to end up a mummified corpse in the middle of a frozen waste? Wildest Dream uses the written correspondence between Mallory and his wife (voiced by Ralph Fiennes and the late Natasha Richardson, in her last "role") in an attempt to shine a light on the man's motivations. However, climbing the mountain "because it's there" (Mallory's famous quip) seemed to be all the motivation Mallory needed.
Wildest Dream works best when it relaxes its often heavy-handed narrative and lingers over the savage Himalayan landscapes, pitting tiny splotches of men against enormous swaths of ice and rock. Equally beautiful is the restored footage brought back in 1924 by the surviving members of Mallory's team, stark black-and-white time capsules of an inhuman landscape that has hardly changed in the ensuing eight decades.
While Wildest Dream is probably best viewed in its intended IMAX format, the mere "how did they film THAT?" factor -– particularly when Anker and his team close in on the summit -- makes it required viewing for any fan of nature filmmaking. Thanks to Edmund Hillary's successful summiting of Everest, Mallory's memory has fallen victim to a history written by victors. While Wildest Dream acquits Mallory adequately, the film's narrative aims are wholly subservient to the poetic grandeur of Everest itself.
The DVD includes just a few extras: some extended and deleted scenes, and Noel Odell's original notes.
Posted by cphillips at March 21, 2011 4:05 PM